Tuesday, May 02, 2006

BBC Blues

This was penned by me for this week's Media Post, the UK's leading journal for the media buying industry:

First of all, a disclosure: The mission of my company, Narrowstep, is to create an efficient marketplace in bringing together broadband TV content owners, viewers and advertisers. In the UK the BBC are in danger of skewing this horribly through the development of their Integrated Media Player, which will make its programmes available to view and download online.

Whilst it's admirable that the BBC are innovating and working hard to make content available on the web, the result to date has been a bit of a dog's dinner. Trying to find a sports webcast on a Saturday afternoon is a particularly frustrating and patchy affair. Sometimes it's available, sometimes not, sometimes on audio, other times as video. The quality is invariably poor.

The new services will compete unfairly with commercial broadcasters trying to make their content available using pay-per-view or advertising supported models. The counter argument is, of course, that we, the licence payers, have already paid for the content and therefore should have access to it at any time, on any device. As a viewer I have sympathy for this argument, but as a businessman I do not.

In effect, we are all subsidising a competitor through the ridiculous model of the licence fee which this Government has strangely seen fit to continue. Content owners and producers, who now finally have the means of building their own services direct to customers will have to cope with Wal Mart like competition from the BBC. And the corporation will serve a double whammy as they resell their content on the market through their commercial arm, BBC Worldwide.

In the long term, no doubt, the public service and commercial services will live side by side, as they have done for the last half a century, but the BBC will slow down this development. In trying to innovate itself, the BBC will stifle innovation in the open market.

Most worrying of all, the BBC has sold off its broadcast and technology arms, but is still seeing itself as a technology innovator rather than outsourcing these functions and concentrating on what they do best - great programme making.

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